Culturing Dairy and Local Oat Cakes

I created this supremely local treat last weekend – Scottish oat cakes (made with local oats, and homemade butter and buttermilk,) topped with homemade cream cheese and fig jam. It was a long and involved process – especially all the dairy culturing – but worth it! This is based on a recipe from my childhood, and it even surpassed all my good memories!

Step one was to make the cream cheese, which is actually not true cream cheese, but a spreadable tangy cheese made from strained yogurt. I used homemade yogurt had been sitting in the fridge for over a week and needed to be used up. I poured the yogurt in a small colander lined with several layers of cheese cloth over top a Tupperware bowl.

I tied the cheese cloth over the yogurt with a rubber band and weighted it with this bag of beautiful local beans that I picked up at the farmer’s market on Saturday. It’s a mix of about 6 different bean varieties – almost too pretty to cook!

After about 10 hours, the yogurt had reduced to about half it’s original volume.

It’s hard to see in this picture, but the bowl underneath the yogurt had about 3 cups of a clear liquid (whey) that had strained off. Whey cool!

And here’s the finished cheese. It’s thick and creamy – about the consistency of cream cheese – relatively low fat, very high in protein – and it’s delicious!

My next task was to make butter to use in the oat cakes. I’ve been making my own butter pretty consistently for a few months now – it’s so good, and easy to make! Nobody makes butter in this county from Humboldt County cream, so it’s also the only way to get truly local butter. If you haven’t been converted to the wonders of butter, follow this link to the Weston A Price Foundation website. The cream is from Humboldt Creamery, which is mostly pasture raised – even better! The above picture is step one: heating the cream to about 180 degrees to sterilize it.

I cooled the cream to about 110 degrees and added the starter culture: a few tablespoons of this organic cultured sour cream. I would have used my own yogurt, but it had been sitting for over a week and I wasn’t sure that the bacteria were still strong enough to make a good culture.

I poured the cream into two jars. The cream in the quart jar was for butter. The pint jar was for sour cream.

I wrapped the warm jars in dish towels and let them sit overnight in this cooler – can you find the cat in the picture?

The next day, it was thick and tangy – perfect!

I put the pint jar in the fridge to eat as sour cream, and dumped the cream from the quart jar into the food processor.

After about 4 minutes of processing, the butter separated from the buttermilk.

I poured off the buttermilk. It’s tangy – great for baking or making salad dressing. I had enough to do both!

I poured some cold water into the processor, processed it with the butter, and strained if off. This cleans any remaining buttermilk from the butter. I had to do it 6 times until the water that drained off was totally clear. If there’s any buttermilk left, it will go rancid and ruin the butter. It’s also important that it be cold water, since warm water will melt the butter.

I strained the last of the water out of the butter by pressing it into this sieve.

I bought this nifty French butter dish at a local fair recently. The bottom half has about 2 inches of salt water in it, and the top half gets packed with butter.

It stores really well like this on the counter. The water makes an airtight seal around the butter and keeps it nice and fresh. We’ve learned not to keep it too close to the stove since the butter gets too warm and soft and slips down into the water.

The next step was to make the oat cakes. These are local, unrolled oats from Shakefork Farm in Arcata. These oats were the inspiration for this entire process – they’re fresh and delicious, and I wanted to try them in this recipe.

Here are the oats after being processed for about 5 or 6 minutes – pretty fine, but not as fine as flour. Here’s the full recipe:

  • 3 cups oats, blended
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 scalded milk or cream (or buttermilk)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix oatmeal, flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter with hands. Dissolve soda in hot milk, add to dry mixture. Roll to 1/3 – 1/4 inches. Cut into round shapes using the top of a glass. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 10 minutes.

Here’s the dough. It’s pretty crumbly, and seems too dry to roll out….

…but somehow it works. Here’s the glass that I used to cut the cakes into rounds.

And here they are coming out of the oven. These are really good – a little chewy, and deliciously oaty!

Finally, it was time to make the fig jam. I got these super-ripe and delicious Black Mission figs at the farmer’s market on Saturday. These have an extremely limited season. They’re also pretty pricey, but worth every penny – they’re one of the produce items I look forward to the most all year!

Here they are cut up. You can see how deliciously ooey-gooey they are!

I cooked them with local honey, orange peel, and cinnamon.

After about 30 minutes, the jam was thick, sweet and beautiful to behold.

It made a little over a pint of pure goodness!

Finally, late Sunday afternoon, everything was ready! It was almost dinner time, so I just made one to taste.

Later, we indulged ourselves in a delicious, almost completely local dessert. Mmmmmm! The jam has an almost jewel like quality. It’s sweetness is perfectly complemented by the tangy cheese, and chewy, not too sweet oat cakes. It was a lot of work, but I’ve had plain oat cakes with tea for breakfast every morning this week, and a delicious dessert every night! 

Lettuce Soup

I just love recipes like this one that really stretch your ideas about how ingredients should be used. Who ever heard of cooking lettuce? I had a lot of it from the garden that I wanted to harvest before it got bitter, so I looked around the Internet to find recipes that use a lot of lettuce. I found a few recipes on Epicurious.com for lettuce soup – it sounded interesting and easy, so I decided to go for it.

First, I sauteed onions, (local) garlic, and a russet potato in olive oil. I added chicken stock, cooked it for about 15 minutes, and then added the greens….

Here’s the lettuce and herbs before they started cooking. I used green leaf lettuce, and a little bit of sorrel, parsley, and sage, all from the garden.

It started to cook….

and cook…..

Here I am pureeing it with the hand blender.

This isn’t the best picture, but this is what it looked like in the bowl with croutons and dollop of sour cream (the recipe didn’t call for cream, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.) It was surprisingly tasty! The texture was similar to a pureed spinach soup, but the flavor was lighter than spinach. It kept its lettuce-y flavor, which somehow worked in soup form. Definitely a great way to use up a bunch of lettuce!

Late June Garden Pics

The onions are blooming! This is a red onions I planted last fall. The plant is about 3 feet tall! It’ll be ready to dig soon.

The Rose Campion is doing really well this year – I just love the color! The plant has been here for who knows how long, but up until this year is was so stifled under ivy and blackberry vines that it only had one or two blooms. We cleared it out late last summer, and it’s going off this year!

The tomatoes are doing pretty well. This one is blooming already. It’s still pretty small, but I guess I’ll just watch it to see what happens. I’ve learned not to be overly optimistic about growing tomatoes here – it’s just too cold in the summer-time.

I harvested all the lettuce leaves (for soup!) but I left the plants in the ground so they can re-seed themselves. I had lots and lots of volunteer squash and tomatoes coming up amongst the potatoes, so I transplanted a few among the lettuce. We’ll see what happens. I don’t have a lot of money to spend on plants, so I decided to try an all volunteer veggie garden this summer.

We finally got the soaker hose out this weekend, so at least I’ll know things are getting enough water. I had been neglecting the watering pretty badly, but with the soaker hose all I have to do is turn in on for 15 or 20 minutes every few days.

All the forest fires in Northern California this the past week have brought an unusual amount of smoke our way. There’s no fog in this picture, it’s all smoke billowing in from the fires. We don’t usually get much smoke here on the coast, but I guess the wind’s just right this time, plus there’s a lot of fires burning. It’s pretty odd to have it be overcast, but without clouds.

The kaffir lime tree on the front porch is really happy now – It’s setting lots of new leaves. There’s really no decent Thai food in this area, so I’m forced to make it at home. Kaffir lime leaves are an essential ingredient, and I can’t always get them at the C0-op.

This is the French sorel on the front porch. It seems to like it there. I love the sour taste of the leaves – especially in salad.

The back garden is nicer than it’s ever been. The deer haven’t raided it yet this year, so we have an unusual amount of un-chewed-on-plants.

This rose always blooms around the Fourth of July. It’s quite patriotic with the blue lobelia behind it!

Th fuchsia by the front door is going off right now as well. The blooms are so intricate, they always look fake to me….

Killer Chocolate-Cherry Birthday Cake

I’m not kidding when I call this cake killer! I made it for the birthday potluck I had on Saturday, and it was about as rich as a cake can possibly be.

These are local cherries from Willow Creek. It was perfect timing – the cherry harvest is in full swing up there! I got a mixture of Bing and Rainer cherries from Neukom Family Farm – growers of some of the tastiest fruits in all of Humboldt County!)

Here they are pitted. It took a while, but I did it all with just a paring knife. My hands were stained yellow by the time I was done!

Lots and lots of whipped cream, with a tiny bit of sugar, vanilla, and cherry flavoring added.

And here are the caked! I quadrupled this recipe from Epicurious. It’s amazingly simple, and amazingly rich – just chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs, and cocoa powder. I made quite a bit – I wasn’t sure how many people to expect, and I certainly didn’t want to run out of cake!

Here’s the first layer of cake. There were six layers in all. Between each I slathered on whipped cream and a layer of cherries.

Here it is almost frosted. Mmmmm…..

And here’s the finished cake! I covered it in chocolate shavings for an added touch. The only drawback to this cake is that it was very very very rich. Too much could make you feel a little woozy. It was amazing in small doses though!

June-Birthday Locavore Pesto

My birthday was last week – Johnny and I took the day off and went to the South Fork of the Trinity – about an hour and a half drive up into the mountains. It was about 20 degrees hotter there than in Arcata – it’s so nice to get away from the coastal cold foggy-ness! I will get to the food, but I wanted to post some of the pictures from the river. It was just gorgeous!

There were some rapids, but we managed to find places we could safely swim downstream. We didn’t take any chances – people have died on this river!

Lots of cool wildlife! This frog seemed like he was enjoying getting his picture taken!


The same day we came home and made an almost-locavore-birthday-dinner. Here are the main ingredients:

A few new potatoes from the garden! They’re definitely not all ready yet, but I don’t think it hurt the plants at all to take some. We’ll have lots more soon!

This garlic is from G Farms in the Arcata bottoms. They’re growing a bunch to sell to the Co-op, and this is a sample I got when I visited the farm two weeks ago.

Summer squash from Willow Creek! I love it when the blossoms are still fresh!

Basil from Orleans. It had been in the fridge for a few days, so it was starting to brown a little, but it was still perfect for pesto.

I made a super simple pesto with the basil, olive oil, walnuts, lemon juice, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. I don’t really measure any of those ingredients, I just blend them together till it tastes right.

I roasted the veggies with olive oil and two small pork chops. The pork was not local – when it comes to meat I’d rather know that the animals were raised humanely and naturally than having it be local. I’d really rather it was both humane and local though! Anybody want to raise hogs in Humboldt? I’d buy some!

We have so much lettuce in the garden! This is all freshly harvested, about 5 minutes before we ate. I mixed it with some purslane from Little River Farm in Bayside.

Here it is. Roasted veggies, pork, salad, and fresh pesto. The perfect early summer birthday meal!

Erin’s Local Veggie and Quinoa Salad

I had a potluck birthday party this weekend, and I just had to post this beautiful dish that my friend Erin brought. It was a delicious quinoa/fresh veggie salad – much of it is from her own garden! I love the presentation – nothing dresses up a dish like a few nasturtiums!

Bacon Wrapped Date Surprise

I decided to make these on whim last week. We have some bacon in the fridge, and we don’t usually cook with bacon, and I’ve been trying to think of creative ways to use it. My mom and I had bacon wrapped dates last winter at Devotay, in Iowa City. (I sure hope it’s not underwater right now!) It was delicious! I really liked the sweet/salty flavor combo, and I’ve been meaning to try it out myself ever since. First, I cut bacon into really thin strips.

I had a total of 8 dates, and I wanted Johnny and I to each have one of each filling, so I stuffed them with four different fillings: garlic, walnuts, cheddar cheese, and blue cheese. I picked those ingredients because they were what I happened to have on hand, and not for any particular gastronomic reason. I was curious to see which worked and which didn’t.

I rolled them up, skewered them to hold them together, and baked them till the bacon seemed done. They were incredibly rich! I liked both the cheeses and the walnut – the cheddar was surprisingly good. The garlic was a little weird though….. I like experimenting with food like this – I’m just glad Johnny agrees to eat all the weird stuff I come up with!

El primer carne asada del verano

This picture is actually not part of the carne asada, but it does fit in with the grilling theme. Earlier in the week we grilled this asparagus, and I experimented with grilling a few chard stems. The asparagus was delicious, but I probably wouldn’t recommend the chard. It was kind of tough and stringy. It made a nice picture though.


Now on the real subject of this post. Last night we had two other couples over for dinner, and since the weather was nice, we decided to grill out, Mexican style.

I decided to try to use as many local ingredients as possible. This is zucchini from the Pierce’s in Orleans. It’s getting bigger and better as the summer starts to really warm-up up there.

This is cilantro from Blake’s Farm in Blue Lake. It’s probably the nicest, most flavorful and aromatic cilantro I’ve ever seen. I am in total awe of Blake – he grows some of the most beautiful produce around….and he’s an incredibly humble person. I bought two bunches and picked the leaves from the stems.

These little spring onions aren’t local…but they’re from Northern California somewhere. They reminded me of the little onions I’ve had grilled in Mexico. These were just a little bigger than those Mexican cebollitos, however.

Johnny made guacamole. He won’t tell me exactly what’s in it: “It’s a secret,” he says. It sure was good though – our guests made short work of it!

This is the cheese I used. I couldn’t find any Mexican cheeses at the Co-op (kind of shameful, given that we have cheeses from all over the rest of the world!) so I went to Rita’s Market behind the Co-op and got this. It’s Oaxacan style….kind of like mozzarella. Unfortunately, it’s not organic. It’s rare that I eat non-organic dairy, but I figured cultural correctness was more important than organic in this case. Besides, I like going to Rita’s – I get to practice my Spanish!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures of the actual grilling. Our guests got here, and I was too busy making tortillas and helping Johnny oversee the grilling to remember to take pictures. Someday I’ll take pictures of corn-tortilla-making for this blog, but not this time. It’s actually quite easy….all together we had tortillas, meat (marinated in lime juiceand grilled,) grilled veggies, sour cream, cilantro, cheese, guacamole, salsa, chips….perfect!

The best thing about a meal like this one is the left-overs! This was our dinner tonight: Left-over tortillas made into quesadillas, lettuce from the garden, cilantro, sour cream, salsa, chopped tomato, beans, and re-heated grilled meat and veggies. Oh, and of course lime. Oh, how I wish limes grew locally!

Deep Dish Polenta Pie

I’ve made a lot of variations of this polenta pie. Basically, I start with a bottom layer of olive oil and sliced polenta, then pile a bunch of yummy Italian cheeses, veggies, and meats on top, and bake it till it looks done. It’s always a little different, but always delicious!

This is the pie I made last week. I started out with polenta, then a layer of salami, local basil, chopped local garlic…..

….sliced tomatoes, blue cheese, local green onion, more polenta, a drizzle of olive oil….

….and some grated cheese. All I had, besides the blue cheese, was Monterey Jack. I would much rather have used mozzarella, but the Jack worked fine.

Like I said, it’s really easy to make this dish really delicious!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Berries

We’re planning a party in a few weeks, for which I want to make a black forest cake (chocolate with cherries.) One of the people coming is allergic to gluten. Since I’m not familiar with gluten-free baking, I made an experimental cake this weekend. (Yes, this was in part just an elaborate excuse to make a cake, but the experience will really help with the black forest cake too!) It’s a super simple recipe from Epicurious: Flourless Chocolate Cake. It’s just melted chocolate, sugar, eggs, cocoa powder, and butter. I topped it with fresh berries, and man, was it good. Very rich, but with more of a cakey texture than you might think. The recipe should work really well as the base for a black forest cake. the trick will be making thin layers with cherries between them….mmmm….the possibilities!